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- The Young Carthaginian - 48/62 -
in your escape."
Malchus at once agreed that it would be better for him to return to his abode among the Arabs, and thanking Manon for his kindness he returned with Nessus, who had been waiting without.
As they walked along Malchus briefly related to his follower the substance of his interview with Manon. Suddenly Nessus stopped and listened, and then resumed his walk.
"I think we are followed, my lord," he said, "one of Hanno's spies in Manon's household is no doubt seeking to discover who are the Arabs who have paid his master a visit. I have thought once before that I heard a footfall, now l am sure of it. When we get to the next turning do you walk on and I will turn down the road. If the man behind us be honest he will go straight on; if he be a spy, he will hesitate and stop at the corner to decide which of us he shall follow; then I shall know what to do."
Accordingly at the next crossroad they came to Nessus turned down and concealed himself a few paces away, while Malchus, without pausing, walked straight on. A minute later Nessus saw a dark figure come stealthily along. He stopped at the junction of the roads and stood for a few seconds in hesitation, then he followed Malchus.
Nessus issued from his hiding place, and, with steps as silent and stealthy as those of a tiger tracking his prey, followed the man. When within a few paces of him he gave a sudden spring and flung himself upon him, burying his knife between his shoulders. Without a sound the man fell forward on his face. Nessus coolly wiped his knife upon the garments of the spy, and then proceeded at a rapid pace until he overtook Malchus.
"It was a spy," he said, "but he will carry no more tales to Hanno."
Two days later, Nessus, on his return from his visit to Manon, brought news that the latter had arranged with the captain of a ship owned by a friend to carry them across to Corinth, whence they would have no difficulty in taking a passage to Italy. They were to go on board late the following night, and the ship would set sail at daybreak.
The next evening Malchus accompanied by Nessus paid a farewell visit to Manon, and repeated to him all the instructions of Hannibal, and Manon handed him his letter for the general, and again assured him that he would, with his friends, at once set to work to pave the way for an appeal to the populace at the first favourable opportunity.
After bidding farewell to the old noble, Malchus returned to the house of the Arab and prepared for his departure. He had already handsomely rewarded the two men and the mahout for the services they had rendered him. In the course of the day he had provided himself with the garments of a trader, the character which he was now about to assume.
At midnight, when all was quiet, he and Nessus set out and made their way down to the port, where, at a little frequented landing stage, a boat was awaiting them, and they were at once rowed to the ship, which was lying at anchor half a mile from the shore in readiness for an early start in the morning.
Although it seemed next to impossible that they could have been traced, Malchus walked the deck restlessly until the morning, listening to every sound, and it was not until the anchor was weighed, the sails hoisted, and the vessel began to draw away from Carthage that he went into his cabin. On the sixth day after leaving Carthage the ship entered the port of Corinth.
There were several vessels there from Italian ports, but before proceeding to arrange for a passage Malchus went to a shop and bought, for himself and Nessus, such clothing and arms as would enable them to pass without difficulty as fighting men belonging to one of the Latin tribes. Then he made inquiries on the quay, and, finding that a small Italian craft was to start that afternoon for Brundusium, he went on board and accosted the captain.
"We want to cross to Italy," he said, "but we have our reasons for not wishing to land at Brundusium, and would fain be put ashore at some distance from the town. We are ready, of course, to pay extra for the trouble."
The request did not seem strange to the captain. Malchus had spoken in Greek, the language with which all who traded on the Mediterranean were familiar. He supposed that they had in some way embroiled themselves with the authorities at Brundusium, and had fled for awhile until the matter blew over, and that they were now anxious to return to their homes without passing through the town. He asked rather a high price for putting them ashore in a boat as they wished, and Malchus haggled over the sum for a considerable time, as a readiness to pay an exorbitant price might have given rise to doubts in the captain's mind as to the quality of his passengers. Once or twice he made as if he would go ashore, and the captain at last abated his demands to a reasonable sum.
When this was settled Malchus went no more ashore, but remained on board until the vessel sailed, as he feared that he might again be recognized by some of the sailors of the Carthaginian vessels in port. The weather was fair and the wind light, and on the second day after sailing the vessel lay to in a bay a few miles from Brundusium. The boat was lowered, and Malchus and his companions set on shore.
They had before embarking laid in a store of provisions not only for a voyage, but for their journey across the country, as the slight knowledge which Malchus had of the Latin tongue would have betrayed him at once were he obliged to enter a town or village to purchase food. Carrying the provisions in bundles they made for the mountains, and after three days' journey reached without interruption or adventure the camp of Hannibal. He was still lying in his intrenched camp near Geronium. The Roman army was as before watching him at a short distance off.
Malchus at once sought the tent of the general, whose surprise at seeing him enter was great, for he had not expected that he would return until the spring. Malchus gave him an account of all that had taken place since he left him. Hannibal was indignant in the extreme at Hanno having ventured to arrest and condemn his ambassador. When he learned the result of the interview with Manon, and heard how completely the hostile faction were the masters of Carthage, he agreed that the counsels of the old nobleman were wise, and that Malchus could have done no good, whereas he would have exposed himself to almost certain death, by endeavouring further to carry out the mission with which he had been charged.
"Manon knows what is best, and, no doubt, a premature attempt to excite the populace to force Hanno into sending the reinforcements we so much need would have not only failed, but would have injured our cause. He and his friends will doubtless work quietly to prepare the public mind, and I trust that ere very long some decisive victory will give them the opportunity for exciting a great demonstration on our behalf."
The remainder of the winter passed quietly. Malchus resumed his post as the commander of Hannibal's bodyguard, but his duties were very light. The greater part of his time was spent in accompanying Hannibal in his visits to the camps of the soldiers, where nothing was left undone which could add to the comfort and contentment of the troops. There is no stronger evidence of the popularity of Hannibal and of the influence which he exercised over his troops than the fact that the army under him, composed, as it was, of men of so many nationalities, for the most part originally compelled against their will to enter the service of Carthage, maintained their discipline unshaken, not only by the hardships and sacrifices of the campaigns, but through the long periods of enforced idleness in their winter quarters.
From first to last, through the long war, there was neither grumbling, nor discontent, nor insubordination among the troops. They served willingly and cheerfully. They had absolute confidence in their general, and were willing to undertake the most tremendous labours and to engage in the most arduous conflicts to please him, knowing that he, on his part, was unwearied in promoting their comfort and well being at all other times.
As the spring advanced the great magazines which Hannibal had brought with him became nearly exhausted, and no provisions could be obtained from the surrounding country, which had been completely ruined by the long presence of the two armies. It became, therefore, necessary to move from the position which he had occupied during the winter. The Romans possessed the great advantage over him of having magazines in their rear constantly replenished by their allies, and move where they might, they were sure of obtaining subsistence without difficulty. Thus, upon the march, they were unembarrassed by the necessity of taking a great baggage train with them, and, when halted, their general could keep his army together in readiness to strike a blow whenever an opportunity offered; while Hannibal, on the other hand, was forced to scatter a considerable portion of the army in search of provisions.
The annual elections at Rome had just taken place, and Terentius Varro and Emilius Paulus had been chosen consuls. Emilius belonged to the aristocratic party, and had given proof of military ability three years before when he had commanded as consul in the Illyrian war. Varro belonged to the popular party, and is described by the historians of the period as a coarse and brutal demagogue, the son of a butcher, and having himself been a butcher. But he was unquestionably an able man, and possessed some great qualities. The praetor Marcellus, who had slain a Gaulish king with his own hand in the last Gaulish war, was at Ostia with a legion. He was destined to command the fleet and to guard the southern coasts of Italy, while another praetor, Lucius Postumius, with one legion, was in Cisalpine Gaul keeping down the tribes friendly to Carthage.
But before the new consuls arrived to take the command of the army Hannibal had moved from Geronium.
The great Roman magazine of Apulia was at Cannae, a town near the river Aulidus. This important place was but fifty miles by the shortest route across the plain from Geronium; but the Romans were unable to follow directly across the plain, for at this time the Carthaginians greatly outnumbered them in cavalry, and they would, therefore, have to take the road round the foot of the mountains, which was nearly seventy miles long; and yet, by some unaccountable blunder, they neglected to place a sufficient guard over their great magazines at Cannae to defend them for even a few days against a sudden attack.
Hannibal saw the opportunity, and when spring was passing into summer
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